What Is A Diastema: Natural Beauty Or Dental Defect?
In many parts of Africa, a diastema is considered a thing of beauty, fertility, and virility. Every one is truly unique and beautiful in their own way. But in actual fact, it is a dental condition that you may need or may not need treatment for.
For centuries, Africans have considered diastema as a sign of beauty. In East Africa, people believed that women with diastema were the most attractive and the most fertile. In 2020AD, and with the advent of the internet, the continent has experienced immense enlightenment. But concerning diastema, not much has changed. Instead, diastema has become a sought after practice in beauty enhancement establishments. What is a diastema, and is it hereditary? We'll dissect this and more below. Take a look!
What Is A Diastema?
It is a space or gap between any of your two teeth. And a diastema often shows up between the two upper front teeth. But these gaps can show up between any two teeth. In Nigeria, the Yorubas refer to a diastema as 'eeji', but if you're no stranger to the African continent, you might have heard of the term "gapped tooth" or tooth gaps very often. The size of your teeth and jaw bone can be determined by genetics, so diastema can run in families.
Some gaps are small and barely noticeable, whereas other gaps are larger and a cosmetic issue for some people. If you don’t like the way the gap looks, there are ways to close it or reduce its size.
In Nigeria, tooth gaps symbolize beauty and luck; and in the Caribbean, they're associated with sexual allure. Some other parts of Africa associate tooth gaps with fertility, sexual prowess and virility. Africa's citizens also believe a tooth gap signifies wealth. What we don't think about is that diastema is a medical condition. And just like most medical conditions, it has causes, and it can be treated.
If the size of your jawbones doesn't match the size of your teeth, you may have gaps in between your teeth or crowded teeth. If the teeth are too small for the jaw bone, spaces between the teeth will occur. And if the teeth are too big for the jaw, teeth will be crowded.
Spaces develop for a few other reasons as well.
What Causes A Diastema?
- Sometimes some teeth are missing or undersized. This happens most often with the upper lateral incisors (the teeth next to the two upper front teeth). That can make your upper central incisors to develop some space.
- You can also get tooth gaps from an oversized labial frenum. This is the piece of tissue that extends from the inside of your upper lip to the gum just above your two upper front teeth. Sometimes, the labial frenum continues to grow and passes between the two front teeth. If this happens, it blocks the natural closing of the space between these teeth.
- Habits also lead to gaps between the teeth. Thumb sucking tends to pull the front teeth forward, creating gaps.
- You can get tooth gaps from an incorrect swallowing reflex. For most people, the tongue presses against the roof of the mouth (palate) during swallowing. But some people develop a different reflex known as a tongue thrust. When they swallow, the tongue presses against the front teeth. Over time the pressure will push the front teeth forward. This can cause gaps in the teeth.
- Periodontal (gum) disease results in the loss of the bone that supports the teeth. In people who have lost a lot of bone, the teeth can become loose. This movement can result in gaps between the front teeth.
- Children may have temporary gaps as their baby teeth fall out. Most of these spaces close as the permanent teeth reach their final positions.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Tooth Gap?
There are no symptoms for a diastema that occurs because of a mismatch between the teeth and the jaw. But spaces caused by a tongue thrust habit or periodontal disease tend to expand or grow with time. The teeth may become loose, and discomfort or pain may occur, particularly during biting or chewing.
You may notice a space when brushing or flossing. And your dentist can see spaces during an examination. If the gap was caused by a mismatch between the permanent teeth and the jaw size, you can expect the spaces to remain throughout life. Gaps caused by a tongue thrust habit or periodontal disease can get larger with time.
Sometimes, a diastema is part of a set of problems that require orthodontic treatment. In other cases, a diastema is the only problem. But some people may seek treatment for reasons of appearance.
Braces: Some people get braces, which move the teeth together. Often, no matter where the diastema is, you must wear a full set of braces, on both your upper and lower teeth. That's because moving any tooth affects your entire mouth.
Crowns, Veneers, Bonding: If your lateral incisors are too small, your dentist may suggest widening them using crowns, veneers or bonding.
Implants: If you have a space because you are missing teeth, you might need more extensive dental repair. This might include dental implants, a bridge or a partial denture.
Surgery: If a large labial frenum is causing the gap, the frenum can be reduced through surgery called a frenectomy. If you get a frenectomy done on your younger child, the space may close on its own. And if it is done on an older child or an adult, the space may need to be closed with braces.
If the gap is caused by periodontal disease, then periodontal treatment by a dentist or gum specialist (periodontist) is necessary. When gum health is restored, in many cases braces can be used to move the teeth into place. A splint can be used to attach teeth to other teeth and prevent them from moving again. In some cases, a bridge will be required to close the spaces.